Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Review: Mash-Up Of Old-School Ideas And Modern App Sensibilities
Long, long ago, before we had smartphones or apps or even 8-bit gaming consoles, game designer Steve Jackson released Fighting Fantasy, a series of single-player paper RPGs that played something like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but with more rules. Now, developer Inkle has taken the first of these books and converted it into an interactive eBook. Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is a blast of RPG nostalgia, though it might have a hard time holding the attention of a modern audience.
In Sorcery! you take on the role of a hero of Analand. You have been tasked with traveling across the dangerous parts of the world in search of the Crown of Kings, a powerful artifact. It’s a fairly generic and straightforward setup, standard fantasy fare, and indeed Analand itself is a pretty standard and generic fantasy world.
Playing the game means reading the introductory text, and then navigating your hero along a nicely rendered game map (the hero looks like an RPG miniature, complete with base) to story points. At those points you get the next text for the story, followed by your options for where to go next. At any point you can “rewind” and redo a scene, making the other choice if you don’t like where the first one has gotten you. It’s interesting to see the narrative unfold.
Sometimes, the story will bring you to a combat. This is one of the more interesting, but also frustrating, parts of the game. Essentially, combat requires you to anticipate your opponent’s next move and then choose to counter by either defending or trying to make a counterstrike. The closer you come to your opponent’s power, the more damage you do; defending reduces any damage you take to one. It’s an interesting concept, but the execution can be annoyingly ham-fisted. You’re supposed to be able to glean clues about your opponent’s next move from the flavor text that accompanies each attack, but it’s a little too vague in many instances and mis-steps can cost you battles.
Rather than fight, you can also choose to use the game’s magic system. You have a spellbook with many spells in it. Each is represented by a three-letter code; for example, ZAP lets loose a bolt of lightning, while WAL creates a defensive wall. However, you don’t have access to all spells at all times; it depends on “which way the stars are aligned,” which is the game’s way of making sure ZAP is never available when you need it (or when they haven’t written flavor text for it). Like combat, it’s an interesting concept that lacks a bit in execution.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is more interactive storybook than game. I love fantasy novels and Choose Your Own Adventures, so Sorcery! was right up my alley. If you’re not in the mood for a lot of reading though, then Sorcery! may leave you a bit bored.
Sorcery! has one real limitation to it: it’s short. This is only the first of four books in the Sorcery! series, and so when you reach your first true destination, the city of Khare, you get a “To Be Continued” message and the promise of another app in the future. Sure, there’s replayability — like me, you probably will fumble through your first attempt and end the adventure poor, hungry, and wounded — but still, that’s $4.99 for an incomplete tale.
Ultimately, I really liked playing through Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! as an old-school paper-and-pencil RPGer, I loved seeing the ways that Inkle chose to apply modern app sensibilities to a pen-and-paper classic. I just wish there were more of it.
Our Score: 4 out of 5